Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who based a political career on school reform, today called for a “restoration” of lost American values and economic mobility based on educational accountability.
With the gap between the impoverished and privileged in the U.S. widening, the solution lies in a regime of school and teacher evaluation, national standards and more “school choice” in alternatives such as charter schools, he said.
“We have these huge gaps in income,” Bush said at the start of a two-day Washington conference sponsored by his Foundation for Excellence in Education, “with people born into poverty who will stay in poverty.” He said: “This ideal of who we are as a nation -- it’s going away, it’s leaving us,” adding: “There is one path that can change this course.”
The Republican’s own political path since retiring after two terms as governor in 2007 is another question. Bush, 59, has said his “window” of opportunity for running for president was this year, though many within his party view him as a potential presidential contender in 2016.
His arrival in Washington weeks after his party’s nominee, Mitt Romney, lost election to President Barack Obama stirred media speculation about Bush’s political ambitions. The son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush played down that in a brief interview with National Review Online, saying he is “here to focus on educational reform” at his foundation’s annual conference.
On the eve of the conference, Bush met with political advisers from past campaigns, including pollster Neil Newhouse of Alexandria, Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies, who ran surveys for Bush’s winning gubernatorial campaigns in 1998 and 2002 and polled for Romney’s losing campaign this year. Associates of the former governor say such meetings with past consultants whom he calls his “alumni group” also are regular events, as is this educational conference. Newhouse called it an informal gathering of a couple dozen people over drinks.
Bush won election as Florida governor in 1998 with a campaign for overhauling education, rewarding high-performing schools with added state funding. It was enacted into law, and is similar to a “No Child Left Behind” law that his brother, the president, pursued in Washington, requiring school testing and holding schools accountable for showing yearly progress.
Only a national commitment to educational progress can reverse a trend in which one-third of students drop out of high school and another third graduate without proficiency for a job or higher education, the former Florida governor told his audience today.
“This is not the America that we love,” he said. “We ought to shake the complacency off of us -- to challenge the complacency of the time.”
“I would suggest to you that high standards -- I’m-not-kidding-standards -- is the first step,” he said, calling for a national system of common student measurements and teacher evaluations based on professional skills, not union membership or tenure. Those standards, the offering of choices such as charter schools and tuition vouchers for private schooling and technology allowing students to advance at their own pace are the key, he said.
“If we stay true to these five ideals, we can reverse this trend and shake the complacency,” Bush said.
Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, is among the speakers at Bush’s conference -- Bush and Duncan have worked together on issues of school choice. Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state for President George W. Bush, was scheduled to address the conference at dinner today, along with Joel Klein, a former New York City schools chancellor.
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